The New York Times:
Geoffrey C. Ward calls the new biography Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggles With India by Joseph Lelyveld a triumph despite its inaccessibility: "This is not a full-scale biography. Nor is it for beginners. Lelyveld assumes his readers are familiar with the basic outlines of Gandhi's life, and while the book includes a bare-bones chronology and is helpfully divided into South African and Indian sections, it moves backward and forward so often, it's sometimes harder than it should be to follow the shifting course of Gandhi's thought. But Great Soul is a noteworthy book, nonetheless, vivid, nuanced and cleareyed. The two decades Gandhi spent in South Africa are too often seen merely as prelude. Lelyveld treats them with the seriousness they deserve."
Steve Heighton has high praises for the small town, coming-of-age novel Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just: "Rodin's Debutante is an achievement. Into a couple of hundred fast-moving pages, it compacts an impressive array of characters, settings, ideas and scenes, including a superb account of the aftermath of a winning football season that fuses the romanticism of the early Kerouac and his mentor, Thomas Wolfe, with the wry humor of Richard Yates: the season soon becomes 'a very distant, very satisfying memory, one without any suggestion of regret or ambiguity. Lee knew without being told that there were few such experiences in life, at least in Illinois.'"
Sarah Fay has many kind words for Peter Stamm's Seven Years, a Swiss novel about alienation and adultery: "With its understated descriptions and cool perceptions, Stamm's fiction (demonstrated in the earlier stories and novels that have been translated into English: Unformed Landscape, On a Day Like This and In Strange Gardens and Other Stories) explores the tendency to experience two incongruous emotions or sensations simultaneously: attraction and disgust, warmth and estrangement, anxiety and liberation."
Andrew Delbanco is pleasantly surprised by America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield, which reinforces the idea that the 600,000 casualties of the Civil War could have been avoided: "Despite its implausibilities, Goldfield's thought experiment in alternative history is provocative in the best sense. Most history books try to explain the past. The exceptional ones, of which America Aflame is a distinguished example, remind us that the past is ultimately as inscrutable as the future."
The New York Review of Books:
For neuroscience enthusiasts, Colin McGinn praises V.S. Ramachandran's The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human: "Ramachandran discusses an enormous range of syndromes and topics in The Tell-Tale Brain. His writing is generally lucid, charming, and informative, with much humor to lighten the load of Latinate brain disquisitions. He is a leader in his field and is certainly an ingenious and tireless researcher. This is the best book of its kind that I have come across for scientific rigor, general interest, and clarity"”though some of it will be a hard slog for the uninitiated."
Julian Barnes draws strong comparisons between Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking to Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story: A Memoir: Oates excellently conveys the disconnect between the inwardly chaotic self and the outwardly functioning person... She is certainly less in control than she seems to outsiders, but probably more in control than she feels to herself. The grief-struck frequently act in ways that could be seen as either half-sane or half-mad, but rarely give themselves the benefit of the doubt... It is in such moments of rational irrationality that the nature of grief is made plain to us."
The Washington Post:
- Craig Fehrmanis takes on two new books about Obama--Reading Obama by James T. Kloppenberg (which he praises) and Deconstructing Obama by Jack Cashill (which he is far less kind to): "Books may be our most sophisticated and important medium--Kloppenberg's volume offers proof of that--but Cashill's work should remind us that books also are not nearly as accountable as they ought to be. Anything that sells is fit to print, even if it is as grotesque, delusional and paranoid as Deconstructing Obama. You can't trust a book by its cover. That's a point Cashill set out to make--and did so, thoroughly, though not in the way he intended."
Adam Langer likes the novel The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French for its clever, funny rendering of suburban life: "Here is a portrait of a dysfunctional family painted against a broad backdrop of vital social issues. Here is a husband contemplating an affair, a wife considering leaving her family, a once-revered patriarch descending into dementia. Here are insightful riffs on pop culture and rants against American hypocrisy and superficiality."
The Los Angeles Times:
Julie Cline is intrigued but impressed by Miroslav Volf's Allah: A Christian Response: "In his thought-provoking new book, Allah: A Christian Response, Volf attempts to explain how the God of Christianity and the God of Islam are, essentially, one and the same. Volf's book is a work of political theology, an inquiry into "the identity and character of God." In Volf's view, recognizing a deity in common "puts pressure on those who pray" to stop fighting and finally agree."
Salter Reynolds recommends the humorous history of American imperialism in Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell: "Vowell is perhaps better read straight up "” the scenes where she observes Hawaiians' profound sorrow over the loss of their land and their heritage, or the parts in which she takes her 8-year-old nephew Owen to see not just the tourist landmarks but the places where loss occurred and blood was spilled. Clearly, she hopes that a new generation will see history like it was, not how we wish it was."